Colombia: A Multiethnic and Multicultural Nation that Ignores the Ethnic Approach

Workshop with the Nukak People

The continuous assassination of indigenous, peasant and Afro leaders; the precarious situation for the compliance of their fundamental rights, the negligible fulfillment of agreements by different governments are the expression of a Government and a society that refuses to accept its multi-ethnic and multicultural condition. By the end of June, four years would have passed since a new breach, this time to the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Agreement.

Read also: Government’s debts to Ethnic peoples at El Espectador

In Colombia, since the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2016, not to talk about 528 years of history, nearly 200 indigenous people have been killed. As of June 5, during the health emergency of Covid-19, with 706 confirmed cases, 25 indigenous people died from Coronavirus due to the lack of timely attention, and aid from biosecurity elements remained as promises, as organizations have denounced for weeks.

“According to data from the National Government, the multidimensional poverty of indigenous peoples is 2.5 times higher than the national rate, in comparison, that of Afro-descendant peoples and communities is 1.5. For both groups, the disadvantages are in terms of education, health and access to early childhood services, housing, aqueduct and sewerage”, says the Akubadaura Community of Lawyers Corporation in its Report on Redistributive Justice and Ethnic Peoples, a document in which it also indicates that, between 2010 and 2019, “The National Government has signed 1,582 agreements with indigenous peoples within the framework of the Permanent Worktable for Concertation, many of which are part of public policies that have an average implementation rate of 3.9%, evidencing a systematic non-compliance with those agreements that are sometimes promoted by the Executive branch.”

The Ethnic Peoples, historically forgotten and discriminated against, tried to place their demands in the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Agreement, but in the post-agreement era, everything remains on paper, despite the announcement of financial aid for the operation of the Special Instance of High Level with Ethnic Peoples, IEANPE.

How did we get there

The participation of indigenous and Afro-Colombian organizations at the peace talks was the result of the tireless request of ethnic communities to have their demands heard as victims and as peace builders, but, especially, as subjects of rights. Thus, under the figure of the Ethnic Commission for Peace and Defense of Territorial Rights, they arrived in Havana, Cuba, on June 26, 2016, when the last point of the Final Agreement for a Stable and Durable Peace was being negotiated between the Colombian Government and former FARC rebels.

In the document that the ethnic people’s representatives carried, the main point was the incorporation of Safeguards to protect the rights and territories of ancestral peoples. “The first point was already agreed, and no thought had been given to shielding the territories that the communities, in their historic struggle, had conquered; for example, how was the land fund to be created? If the indigenous and Afro peoples had not raised the alarm, the government would have founded the land fund, including, affecting the councils,” explains Congressman Israel Zúñiga, senator of the FARC Party.

Incorporating the ethnic approach in the Agreements, an important step was the concretion, legal, of the High Level Special Instance with Ethnic Peoples, IEANPE, by means of Decree 1995 from which the “Draft Parasol Law of Safeguards” and the Follow-up route to the Implementation Framework Plan that contains 37 goals and 98 indicators, on ethnic issues, and which was recorded in the 2018 CONPES.

“IEANPE is the Agency responsible for translating economic, social, cultural, environmental, civil and political rights, with cultural objection, into the Implementation Framework Plan, PMI. We are the tool to facilitate, coordinate and articulate the public policies of the Colombian Government towards the raizales, palenqueros, rom, ancient peoples and nations”, clarifies Armando Wouriyu Valbuena, Technical Secretary of IEANPE. The stable and permanent operation of this space depends on the national budget and international cooperation, but only until the end of May 2020 was supposed to receive less than $ 500,000, which was allocated to it from the multi-donor fund.

“The money is ready, they are like 480 thousand (USD), the understanding has already been signed and the document improvement is undergoing, so by mid-June the money must be there. With this budget we will comply with the mandate of Legislative Act 01 of what is expressed in the Ethnic Chapter and the 013 statement that establishes the case for ethnic groups in the PMI. IEANPE exists because it is part of the Government structure, it exists subliminally, theoretically, but until now it exists only in coordination with the Government ”, emphasizes Mr. Wouriyu Valbuena, who also explains that the technical adjustment to the indicators and goals because “there are corrective measures as in 38 indicators, some adjustments are drafting because, for example, before there was talk of community radio stations and the Ministry of information technology and communications changed the term to ethnic radio stations.”

For Diego Restrepo, an analyst of peace and post-conflict of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, PARES, “the PMI established specialized technical support for project formulation because sometimes language is used to limit the guarantees Ethnic Peoples. The weakness and limitation of the implementation of the Ethnic Chapter is that we see the reproduction of the exclusion of the communities.”

Implementation and monitoring

According to the Executive Summary of the effective State of implementation of the Peace Agreement of Colombia (December 2016 – April 2019) prepared by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies of the University of Notre Dame (https: //kroc.nd. edu / assets / 333273 / 190610_resumen_ejecutive_final_seminario_dc_3_.pdf), the Colombian Peace Agreement has 23% implementation only.

Although political will is decisive in making every structural change proposed a reality, the budget issue also becomes another factor in defining this reality. Albert Talco, a Kankuamo People Economist and member of Akubadaura, it’s interesting to see that “the sources of financing for the compliance of the Agreement, because indigenous  peoples are especially concerned, specifically, for the significant amount they have. One is the General System of Royalties because the organizations have not received information on the resources destined to the implementation of the Ethnic Chapter and two, the General System of Participations due to its inflexibility and flexibility, since they have specific destinations”.

For Armando Wouriyu Valbuena, IEANPE’s secretary, “after 200 years of the Republic, in 2019, due to the effects of a national mobilization, we Indians sat down to listen to the multi-year plan, there was the PMI; As they do not know what differential means, nor they know the public policies of participation, not even what it means to be Indian or Black, because their principle is cultural exclusion, they say: there are a hundred pesos for that and we say: it should be more, but they only say: it is what it is. That is their ethics moral and corrupt aesthetics.”

From Restrepo’s point of view, what happens is that “there is a limited availability of resources, which has no relation to the real needs of the Agreement. Furthermore, this is a government that comes with scandals related to the Peace Funds, wherever there may be a bad destination of founds, that must be investigated.”

Land (First point of the Agreement)

The First Point of the Agreement mentions three fundamental issues: handing over land to peasants (three million hectares); granting titles to those who have possession of their land (seven million hectares); and providing the tools required to guarantee rural development, thus closing the existing gap between the countryside and the city (roads, irrigation districts, drinking water, health, education, etc.).

The peasantry, as well as ethnic communities and women heads of households, are the main beneficiaries of this point of negotiation in Agreement One, and that as of 2018, according to the Kroc Institute, it has only implemented 3% on the issue of “Access and Land Use”, a section that has 29 provisions in total. 

To implement this point, the Development Programs with a Territorial Approach – PDET were created and 16 territories were prioritized, those territories have the highest rates of poverty, the highest armed conflict impact, institutional weakness, among other factors. Indigenous reservations are located in 51% of these prioritized territories and in 81% Afro-Colombian communities.

As of 2019, the progress of these participatory plans with a 10-year vision is inequitable in those territories and lacks clarity for their execution. For example: the Comptroller’s Office reports that, in the first half of 2019, only “45 cases were managed out of the 1,206 cases of the inventory of requests on constitution, expansion, sanitation, restructuring, clarification, delimitation, protection measures and collective titling for indigenous and Afro people that were submitted in 2018.

It is worth mentioning that “Only two National Sectoral Plans have been approved, of which none has been agreed with ethnic communities, nor do they contain special components for indigenous peoples. It is not clear how the PNS will collect the ethnic initiatives of the PDET”, says the report of the regulatory body.

The arrival of President Iván Duque to power “has been an obstacle because it has dedicated itself to hindering and preventing its implementation. Honestly, for allocating enough resources for land purchase, political participation, normalization within indigenous peoples, for crops for illicit use substitution, it is an obstacle ”, comments Gilberto Yafue, former Governor of the Cabildo Resguardo Pueblo Nuevo, Indigenous of the Nasa people, acting councilor of the municipality of Caldono, Cauca Province.

However, the government insists that everything is going well. “Within President Duque’s Peace with Legality policy, the stabilization of the 170 municipalities most affected by violence and poverty is a priority. Meeting the expectations of the communities in the PDETs are a way to achieve equity with our ethnic groups. There are 115 recognized indigenous peoples in the country, half directly participated in the identification of these initiatives of how they want to see their own territories. Here in Quibdó (Chocó Province), it is the best example of all, the penetration of the ethnic focus within the 8 chapters has been such that the communities themselves wanted to change its name, that is why of the 32 thousand initiatives that exist nationwide, 25% have this approach and they are called Development Plan with a Territorial and Ethnic Approach”, says Emilio Archila, Presidential High Counselor for Stabilization and Consolidation.

The Chocó Indigenous Women’s Program, indigenous authorities and organizations, believe otherwise. After a detailed analysis of the Chocó PDET “Generating confidence 2020 – 2023”, the conclusion they reach is that the issue of indigenous peoples is not included in the goals or indicators, nor in the assigned budget. This was registered in the Observations to the Plan, a document that was recently delivered.

Analysts like Restrepo, from the PARES Foundation, endorse this reading. “The PDETs and the PTAs are central nodes of the Agreement, they generated expectations in the territories but a budget ceiling was not planned for the proposals of the people in the Territorial Action Plans and now the initiatives of the people do not materialize but those of the private companies, those that have guarantees and perks like the ones they give to multinationals ”.

For Armando Wouriyu Valbuena, IEANPE’s Technical Secretary, what happened with the construction of the PDETs is that they do not respond to what people were looking for. “The Government does not recognize rurality; it plans the rural with an urban vision. Does not recognize the etymology of the word: relevant. If education is not relevant, there will be no recognition of the diversity of the economies that exist in Colombia, for example: the Wayuu are rural, we are desert people, we have an economy. National Planning Office does not recognize the Wayuu’s own fishing, ranching and urban commercial economy. If we talk about Leticia (Amazonas Province), the construction they plan does not take into account the ecosystem of the region. Planning must include 4 characteristics of indigenous peoples: nomads, semi-nomads, desert sedentary, agrarian and Andean, and urban confined by dispossession of their property. If they understood that, they would think of an education for a nomadic people, but they are not willing to accept that. They do the same with the Black and Peasant communities, they do not accept their rights, nor do they recognize the economy of the Raizal people of San Andrés Island”.

Organizations that have accompany the communities for a long time, consider that progress on the land issue is almost nil. “Since 2012 we have accompanied the processes of restitution of territorial rights for indigenous peoples seeking titling, sanitation, expansion for the indigenous peoples who have been most affected by the armed conflict, however what we have found is that in regions such as the Chocó Province, with the Emberá People, or the Nükak people in the Guaviare province, even with sentences from the Constitutional Court, with being recognized as peoples at risk of physical and cultural extermination and also having precautionary measures for the restitution of their lands, there hasn’t been a true will on the part of the National Land Agency or on the part of local institutions, such as governors or mayors, to really get those lands to be restored to indigenous peoples and, what that lack of guarantee has implied is the increase the dispossession of land and appropriation of ancestral territories in the hands of third parties ”, comments Rocío Caballero Culma, Indigenous of the Pijao People, and Lawyer member of Akubadaura.

For indigenous peoples, the rules of the game regarding the right to prior consultation are not fully complied with or are modified without consensus. In April of this year alone, 130 civil society organizations sent a letter to President Duque rejecting the provisions in a circular from the Ministry of the Interior that allowed virtual prior consultations with ethnic peoples, in the framework of the declared National Emergency due to the pandemic, at the request of companies with interests in the territories, but without any dialogue or approach with the communities to address the issue. Although the measure was reviewed, it does show a lack of knowledge of the realities that ethnic communities live in the territories, constituting a violation of the fundamental right to free, prior and informed consultation.

Participation and gender approach (Second point of the Agreement)

The Second point of the Agreement proposes democratic openness, pluralism and inclusion. On these issues, the Comptroller’s Office highlights in its report the expansion in the number of indigenous organizations; national organizations of Blacks, Afro-Colombian, Palenqueras and Raizales communities; of the Rom people and of organizations in defense of women’s rights.

The inclusion of the approach in the integral system of truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition is also highlighted as an advance. “The first thing that was done was precisely to advance in the design and in the realization of a consultation on the regulations already issued, which governs the jurisdiction, to consult with indigenous peoples, with Afro-descendant peoples and with the Rom communities, how should you implement the regulations that apply the jurisdiction, “says Mirtha Patricia Linares Prieto, President of the JEP.

For Diego Restrepo, the political reform ended up being a failure in terms of participation. “It was serious not to approve the constituencies of peace that strengthened the voice of the excluded communities. This government has a repressive approach. It deactivated the Security Guarantees Commission that had representation from civil society and victims, activated the Timely Action Plan -PAO-, but with the aggravating circumstance that it excluded civil society and included the Military Forces in the participation of the protection, reaffirming its militaristic approach. It is a huge setback in policy, politics, economic, collective and cultural rights. On the gender approach, in addition, it must be said that it has a homogenizing perspective, which seeks that women enter the global social market, contrary to what was aspired, something more complex and differential, that takes into account the particularities and differentiated needs”.

In the words of the women in the territories, “the participation of indigenous women in the territory of Chocó is deficient, they do not even know the peace agenda that was convened at the national level,” warns Alba Quintana Hachito, an indigenous woman from the Emberá Dobidá People, Leader of the Women’s Program of the Indigenous Table of Chocó and a Lawyer part of the support net of Akubadaura.

Truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition (Fifth point of the Agreement)

According to Rocío Caballero, “in the workshops that we have accompanied the indigenous women of Chocó, the need to socialize the components of the Integral System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition came out, given that these communities have been strongly affected by armed groups that exist in their territories, and the communities still state that there are many events that have not been revealed, that have not been reported as massacres, disappearances, acts of sexual abuse against indigenous women, also many acts of forced recruitment, but it also happens that the armed conflict takes place in their territories and that has been a difficulty in being able to participate, in addition to the fact that the same institutions have not managed to reach all the territories affected by the armed conflict because today there is a budget cut by the executive branch all over the country, since it is still necessary to continue deepening and clarifying all these acts of violation of the human rights of indigenous peoples in regions such as Chocó.”

So, invisible from an open discussion in society on the subject, without a real intention on the part of the Government to make it work, with insufficient resources to guarantee its implementation, the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Agreement must overcome important challenges for it to be materialize in the enjoyment of rights and autonomy for ethnic peoples. Iván Cepeda, Senator of Polo Democrático Party assures that “it must be a priority for the National Government, for Government authorities, for governors and mayors to have the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Agreement as a crucial issue.” At the same time, Alberto Brunori, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights representative – OHCHR – stated that “the ethnic chapter has a long way to go, in particular free, prior and informed consultation, which still remains a challenge and it is not fully implemented.”

It is very important to provide guarantees to IEANPE that monitors the implementation of the agreements, to provide them with support so that they can continue with their technical teams, specifying the goals and indicators that still require adjustments so that the Agencies can make a budget allocation and incorporate them into their planning schemes to give a real scope to the implementation phase of the Ethnic Chapter, says Rocío Caballero.